Family SUVs and sports cars all the rage in Geneva

Small SUVs for families and powerful sports cars for the rich are the big things this year at the Geneva International Motor Show. Environmentally correct electrics and hybrids, not so much — thanks to cheaper petrol and limits on battery life.

Analysts say this show, which opens on Thursday, is more about the search for hit vehicles than new technology, since carmakers are trying to boost sales as Europe slowly recovers from its debt crisis.

Car registrations across the EU increased 5.4% last year to 12.5 million, but remain woefully below their peak of around 16 million in 2007.

High unemployment and weak growth are still holding back the industry, despite 17 straight months of increasing sales.

And there are headwinds from Russia, which appears headed for recession after the ruble’s plunge.

On the other side of the ledger, expensive new luxury and sports cars will cater to demands from buyers in the recovering US economy and China.

Small SUVs and car-like SUVs known as crossovers have become a hot seller for growth-hungry carmakers.

The category will get even more crowded with new vehicles on display at Geneva.

Renault will offer the Kadjar, a crossover in two or four-wheel drive versions, while Honda blurs the borders between car and hatchback with its new HR-V, touting acoustic insulation that reduces road noise and three different ways to configure the interior to carry things.

At the higher priced end, Infiniti shows off its QX30 concept with carbon-fibre trim and big 21-inch wheels. Concepts are clues to what the company may introduce in the future.

High-priced sports cars and luxury vehicles will be on display in abundance.

Audi is showing a new version of its R8 with a 10-cylinder engine churning out 610 horsepower and acceleration of 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in only 3.2 seconds.

It’s priced at €165,000 for the basic version, €187,000 for the more powerful one and goes on sale in Europe this summer.

Electric models and hybrids have lost some buzz. They are still arriving, as Mercedes introduces a plug-in hybrid version of its C-class sedan. Problem is, as a class they don’t sell well yet.

Only 75,331 electrics and hybrids were sold in the EU last year. That’s up 37%, but their limited range and higher costs mean little demand aside from environmental enthusiasts.

“You’ve got low fuel prices at the moment, and the e-mobility issue is at a very difficult phase of development,” said Stefan Bratzel, an industry expert at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach.

For electric sales to take off, he said, the battery range will have to expand from around 150 kilometres (93 miles) now to 400-500 kilometres (250-310 miles), and there have to be more charging stations.

That could happen — but not this year.

One of BMW’s new vehicles is the 2-Series Gran Tourer, a seven-seat family vehicle that’s something of a contrast with the company’s powerful sedans and SUVs.

Analysts say luxury carmakers have dipped into more moderately priced categories in search of more sales revenue. The basic version starts at €26,950 in Germany.


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